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Regulators turn on big US tech groups with antitrust and privacy actions

(ATF) Actions in the US, EU and elsewhere underscore an increasingly assertive stance taken by regulators across the globe at what is seen as overarching power by large technology groups.

Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google face fines of up to 10% of annual turnover and could even be broken up under draft European Union rules announced on Tuesday aimed at curbing their powers.

The rules are the most serious attempt by the 27-country bloc to rein in tech companies that control data and online platforms relied on by thousands of companies and millions of Europeans for their work and social interactions.

They show the European Commission’s frustration with its antitrust cases against the tech giants, notably Alphabet’s Google. But the rules risk inflaming tensions with Washington, already annoyed by attempts to make US tech firms pay more taxes.

Domestic strife

However, the tech groups are under siege at home too, as a group of US states hit Google with an antitrust lawsuit, saying the internet giant abused its power when ranking its own offerings in search results, the US website Politico reported on Tuesday.

A complaint led by attorneys general from Colorado and Nebraska could be filed as early as Thursday, Politico wrote, adding that the suit would argue that Google’s search engine disadvantages rivals by design.

Amazon, TripAdvisor, Yelp and other internet firms that involve recommending products or services have complained that Google favours its own offerings in general search results.

Google’s long-running business model based on free services and advertising is already being put to the test in a landmark antitrust lawsuit filed by the US Justice Department.

Earlier this month, the US Federal Trade Commission and nearly every US state filed lawsuits against Facebook, saying it used a “buy or bury” strategy to snap up rivals and keep smaller competitors at bay. 

India, Australia join in

Meanwhile, Australia’s consumer watchdog launched legal action against Facebook on Wednesday, alleging the social media giant “misled” thousands of Australians by collecting user data from a free VPN service advertised as private.

The platform could face a fine if found guilty of deceiving users, as Australia takes an increasingly assertive stance towards powerful US tech titans.

The ACCC has previously helped draft a law that threatens Facebook and Google with millions of dollars in fines unless they agree to pay media outlets when their platforms host news content.

In November, India’s competition watchdog ordered an investigation into the links between Google’s mobile app store and its payment service, suspecting it was unfairly squeezing out competitors.

The Competition Commission of India said Google made an imposition of “unfair and discriminatory condition, denial of market access for competing apps” because it required the use of Google Pay to buy apps or make in-app payments in the mobile Play store.


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George Russell

George Russell is a freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong who has lived in Asia since 1996. His work has been published in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, New York Post, Variety, Forbes and the South China Morning Post.


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